Monday, January 19, 2015

Rogers Pass - Motel Mayhem

After a long ski hiatus I got back on snow this weekend in Rogers Pass with the ACC Motel Mayhem trip. It was a weekend of firsts - first time skiing in the Pass, first ACC ski trip, first time skiing with Phil and Kathrine, and the first time I seriously regretted not bringing my snorkel on a ski touring trip. We met Friday night and drove out to Golden to stay at the Dream Catcher Hostel. The owners were incredibly friendly and the hostel was clean, cozy and comfortable. I highly recommend staying there if you are ever in Golden. We entertained ourselves with the left over beer from the Ice Review, socializing and planning out where to ski on Saturday. 

We left the hostel just after 8 am and drove up to the Discovery Centre to collect our Wilderness Passes before parking at the Loop Brook parking area. There were lots of groups gearing up, it was going to be a busy day!
One-eyed ski ninja
 We chose to stay away from the glacier and skied up the Elephants Trunk to Bonny Trees. We were a big group of 11 and we passed a few small groups on our way up the ridge. Ahead of us was two more groups of people. It was madness! We dug a few pits and found a facet layer at 80 cm that fractured on our compression test but didn't really move. With that in mind, we skied one at a time, but we had no avalanche activity all day.
Snow is falling and Jenny is happy to be skiing!
 Our big group split into smaller groups to explore the area a bit more. There was some fun mellow skiing and some pretty good powder to be had. The clouds broke up a bit in the afternoon and we were able to see some of the mountains around us. It is a gorgeous area. 
Kyle making his way along the ridge, looking down at the glacier across the valley
Jumping off pillows in the Christmas Tree field
Kathrine checking out the view, wishing she hadn't had pancakes for breakfast
 Unfortunately, not everyone had a great day, Jenna tweaked her knee and had to take it really easy on the ski out. Kathrine was having some stomach issues after eating dairy-laden pancakes for breakfast, not to mention her busted ankle. Regardless, I think that everyone was able to find some good powder! It was a long ski back down to the cars. We had done 1400 m of climbing (not bad for a pretty chill day), and had a lot of terrain to cover to get down. We were able to find some little drops and pillows on the way down, and Kathrine took us through a dense forest that we had to niggle through.
Despite the crowds, there was still some good snow to be found on the ski out
 The first people back to the cars were able to ski out without headlamps, but minutes later it was totally dark. Perfect timing! We made our way back to the hostel for hot showers and a delicious Breakey beef stew that had been simmering in the slow cooker all day, driving everyone else in the hostel crazy. In true potluck style, nobody had brought appetizers and everyone had brought dessert. We had to get the other guests to help us out with all the pies, cheesecakes and crumbles and we still had left overs. I went to bed with tired legs and full of delicious food.

We awoke to a blanket of fresh snow in Golden. When we got to the Discovery Centre, most of the backcountry areas were closed so we had to modify our plans a bit and follow the crowds to Grizzly Shoulder, one of the few spots that was still open. It was snowing hard and there was lots of new snow!
Looking for a creek crossing on our way to Teddy Bear Trees
 We followed a skin track up Teddy Bear Trees. It was getting deeper and deeper as we kept skinning. At 1:30 the alarm rang, it was time to head down so we could get back to Calgary in decent time. We had gained 750 m of elevation from the car, most of it up the steep tree run. We quickly transitioned and dropped in. The snow was instantly over my head. I was getting face shots every second turn and I couldn't stop whooping and hollering. What an amazing time! 
No, I didn't fall, it was just that deep!
 

The Volkl Nanuks were awesome in the powder! This was the deepest day they have ever seen
Paul finds a stash
I made James do this
We were back at the cars at 3 and able to hit the road. I was smiling all the way home, what an awesome weekend with some great friends!
So stoked on life
SO much excitement!
video

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Cactus Christmas in Arizona

After leaving Joshua Tree, Kyle and I drove back to Scottsdale to join up with my family for the rest of the Christmas Holidays. It was awesome to spend time with everyone, it isn't very often that we are all together anymore.
Gingerbread houses - much more fun to make than to eat
  It was also a nice change of pace from the craziness leading up to the holidays. We got to sleep in, read some books and eat lots! In between all our relaxing, we did some exploring in the Scottsdale area. We spend Christmas Eve doing a hike and then going to In 'n Out Burger for lunch.
Kyle pets his furry friends
Hiking the Sunrise Trail in the MacDowell Mountains
 Christmas was a leisurely affair. After opening presents, we went for a swim and then had a feast for dinner!
Christmas morning
 Boxing Day was sunny but cool so Kyle and I got the bikes out and went for a ride in the McDowell Mountains. It was a big push up to a pass but the descent was loose and fun! It was pretty strange riding in December and pedaling past cacti.
Prickly pear cactus, riding in December, oh my! 
Saguaro field beside the trail
Angela had requested that Kyle and I take her climbing during our holiday, so we took advantage of the beautiful sunshine to head out to Pinnacle Peak the next day. We climbed South Crack (5.3, 2 pitches), which was actually the first multi-pitch and trad route that Kyle and I had ever done, 2 years ago. It went much more smoothly this time and Angela climbed like a pro!
Angela LOVES rock climbing! Or maybe she is just terrified?
Climbing up the last pitch on Pinnacle Peak
Angela's favourite part of climbing is coming back down
Climbing is fun
 We stumbled upon AMC Wall on our walk down from Pinnacle and decided to climb a few routes there too. On the way home, Angela took us out for Menchies Frozen Yogurt. Yummy!
Kyle scopes out his next move on Mickey Mantle (5.8)
Well deserved Menchies visit
 One lazy day, I wanted to do something so Kyle and I drove out to the Superstition Mountains to do a climb called Razor's Edge (5.6, 3 pitches). This was a really fun climb and it was mostly bolted and had fixed pitons so I didn't even have to place much gear. The views and the exposure on this climb were spectacular!
First pitch (4th class) on Razors Edge
Kyle follows me up the 2nd pitch of Razors Edge
Kyle taking a break at the 2nd belay station
Leading the final pitch of Razors Edge
60 m rappel down the "Praying Hands"
 We went out to Granite Mountain one night for an afternoon climb. It took longer than we anticipated to get to the crag so we quickly set up a top rope and ran up 3 slabby routes before racing back to the car before the sun went down. All the parks close at sunset and the rangers close the gates so I was worried that we were going to get locked in. We were the last car left in the lot but we were able to get out just fine.
Trying to get back to the car before sunset when the rangers close the gate
 After new years, Kyle and I took off for a trip up to Sedona to meet up with Ashley and Simon for some mountain biking. Unfortunately, the day before we got there, Sedona was hit with the biggest snowstorm that they had seen in over 10 years. Despite all the locals ensuring Ashley that the snow would be melted by the next morning, the trails were still really snowy and hard to ride. It was a strange mixture of snow and mud, so we were sliding around everywhere! We got a few hours of riding in before calling it a day and heading into town for a late lunch and happy hour.
Riding in Sedona, why is there snow? Oh right, I guess it is January
 Sedona is a very strange town that seems to run completely off being a tourist trap. All the stores were tourist shops, art galleries or crystal stores and the claim to fame of the area is that there are "vortexes" that are locations of greater health. Playing the vortex card, there were all sorts of psychics, and crystal healers. As I said, it was a strange town.
Javalinas!
Luckily we were staying in Oak Creek, just south of Sedona and right below a vortex (Bell Rock). We found a bike shop and were able to get some information about trails that were snow free further south. We made our way down to the Black Canyon Trail, a 79 mile multi-use trail that connects Scottsdale to Prescot. We got on the trail at the middle of the trail and headed north for a 22 km out and back ride. The trails were fast and flowy, with a decent amount of elevation gain and fun descents and best of all, no snow!
Black Canyon Trail
No snow to be seen here!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Beowulf (WI 4) and Grotto Canyon - Ice Review (sort of)

The annual ACC Ice Review took place this past weekend. Its amazing to think that I only tried ice climbing for the first time at this event last year. It is amazing what can change in a year! As an unofficial trip for this years Ice Review, Kyle, Alex, Cat and I decided to go into the Ghost Wilderness Area to climb Beowulf (WI 4, 6 pitches, 450m). Road reports were not optimistic, and neither were trip reports from the week prior, but nonetheless we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best as we rolled out of Calgary at 6:30 am. I had woken up feeling terrible so was only semi-conscious for most of the drive to the Ghost access road. I was not going to let a cold stop me from climbing, so I put on all my layers and snuggled up with a blanket and pillow in the backseat. Once we arrived at the big hill, it was too exciting (and rough) to continue dozing and I stared out the window eagerly at this amazing area that I had only heard stories about as the sun slowly rose.
An amazing sunrise welcomes us into the Ghost
The road was fairly easy to find thanks to some new tracks, and we had little trouble with the river crossings once the chains were on the car. We took our time and Kyle got out to scope out a few of the ice sections and crossings first but everything seemed to be going right and we were able to make it through without an issues. The road got really rough after we passed the Good, the Bad and the Ugly climb but we made it all the way to the Beowulf parking area and were the second car there. It had taken us about 4 hours from Calgary.
Getting ready for another river crossing
Snowy tracks as we blaze further into the North Ghost
Cat wasn't climbing with us that day, she was just happy to be along for the off-roading part of the trip. Alex, Kyle and I left her at the car with lots of sleeping bags and snacks and started the approach to Beowulf. The canyon that contains this climb is amazing with steep sided cliffs that made us feel very small. Suddenly we were able to see the start of the climb and I was stunned. It looked colossal but incredibly fun. We could see another group high above just finishing the first 50 m pitch of vertical ice. 
Alex starts up the first pitch
Alex approaches the next section of steep ice on Beowulf
Beowulf's majestic first pitch 
Alex nears the top of the first pitch
Once Alex, our fearless leader, reached the belay, Kyle and I simul-climbed. It really sped the process up and climbing side by side prevented us from dropping ice onto each other. It was a tiring pitch and by the top, my calves were screaming for a rest. The last few meters were wet and slushy from running water so we moved quickly through to try and stay dry.
Kyle and I simul-climbing after Alex's lead
After the first pitch, the climbing was not very technical for quite some time. We followed the canyon unroped, solo climbing the small steps of ice that we encountered. There was one WI 2 pitch that I lead, but Kyle and Alex just soloed after me to keep us moving quickly.
Making our way up the canyon
Kyle in the steep walled canyon on Beowulf
Alex doing some free soloing up a steep section
The only other technical climbing was the final two pitches. When we arrived, the group we had been following was working their way up, so we decided to continue up the canyon past them to explore the Devil's Punchbowl which we believed was only about 10 minutes beyond. I am not sure if it was because we were breaking trail, or rather Kyle was while I lagged behind, because we were not moving very quickly (again due to me feeling tired and sick), or because we were misinformed, but we never did get to the Punchbowl. Apparently it is hard to miss, so we must not have gone up high enough. We turned around after 30 minutes so that we would have enough time to finish Beowulf. I guess that area will have to be another days adventure.
Walking down from below the Devil's Punchbowl
Back at the final flow of Beowulf, the other group was rappelling down. Their leader had taken a fall at the top of the last pitch and wasn't feeling very well. We offered to help but he was still smiling (sort of) and walking so they said that they would just take their time on the way out. They were able to get out from the Ghost and we later found out that he had broken some ribs and torn his shoulders. Ouch! Alex lead the final pitches with Kyle and I climbing together once again. Kyle took a chunk of ice to the chin but was fine and I slammed my knee into the ice. We were getting tired. It was past our turn around time at this point, but we were so close to the top that it would have been heartbreaking to head down without finishing. It just meant that we would be driving out in the dark which wasn't so bad.
Alex starting up the 2nd last pitch, our 3rd real pitch of technical ice
Cold and tired at the belay, almost at the top
Kyle is happy, despite his cut chin
We didn't take much time to sit around at the top since we had a long descent ahead of us and not much daylight left. We were able to do 60 m rappels down the large pitches and 2 single pitch rappels down some of the steeper WI 2s, and down climbed the rest of the route. We made pretty good time and got back to the truck at about 5:30, just as the light was fading. We had been climbing for about 7.5 hours and I was exhausted. Despite the route being pretty wet in places, we hadn't got too soaked. There were some soggy post-hole boot prints, but we managed to avoid most of the really wet stuff.
Kyle starting the long 60 m rappel off the top of the route
The drive out was uneventful. It had started to snow and by the time we approached the big hill, the tracks from other vehicles were starting to disappear so we made it out just in time! It was a long slow drive to Banff to meet up with the ACC for the Ice Review social. We arrived at 9 pm and lots of people had already gone to bed. Luckily there was plenty of beer and snacks left, although not too much chili which was unfortunate. Setting up the tent in the snow took a lot of willpower but crawling into my sleeping bag was a great reward after a long day.

Sunday morning we slept in a bit before packing up and heading to Grotto Canyon for the day. It was busy in the parking lot and we passed two large hiking groups on our way in. Once we arrived, there were a couple of groups of climbers and a line-up for Grotto Falls. Alex lead Hers (WI 4) to set up a top rope and collect some gear for another group who had bailed. Kyle and I did a top rope lap on Hers before heading over to Grotto Falls (WI 2) while Alex did some mixed climbing and Cat top-roped.
The rope may have got a bit wet, it was totally frozen when we pulled it out of the truck
Alex leading Hers (WI 4)
Kyle playing on the snow mushrooms at the bottom of His

I lead the first pitch of Grotto and Kyle took the second. There was another group on the route but they climbed it as a single pitch and then let us rap off their ropes (thanks!). The second pitch was incredibly wet. Water was running down the entire thing and seconding it was drenching. Luckily this was our last climb for the day because my gloves were frozen and I was cold!
Rappelling Grotto Falls